Why leadership matters

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

When I was studying at Wits University in the late 1970s, lecturers would sneer at the “Great Man” view of history.

They were mostly Marxists and talked about vast impersonal forces that determined events.

Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were the rising economic tigers in the 1970s, but my sociology lecturers saw hope in “Euro-Marxism”.

They were not critical of Mao Zedong, who was actually a mass murderer who enormously hindered China’s economic progress.

And Lenin, also a mass murderer, was studied seriously as a model for revolutionary change.

Leftist revolutionaries were given a free pass, in contrast to the worst accusations thrown at Western “imperialist” powers.

I suspect that leftist academics still cannot comprehend why Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher are heroes in Eastern European countries that suffered under Soviet imperialism.

Many university dons are so far removed from ordinary people that their policy prescriptions are dangerous.

American writer William Buckley once said that he would “rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”

I am similarly wary of fashionable intellectual fads that are disastrous when implemented.

A notorious example is Outcome Based Education (OBE), which caused incredible damage to our education system.

Common sense is unfortunately not so common, and a healthy scepticism is necessary when grand schemes are talked about.

It is noteworthy that Hendrik Verwoerd, the author of apartheid “separate development”, was formerly a sociology professor.

Politics is fascinating because individuals do matter, and sometimes quirky unanticipated events can change things dramatically.

I saw how Tony Leon took a political party that the pundits had written off, and transformed it into a powerful opposition force.

Helen Zille led a fragile seven party coalition as mayor of Cape Town that could have toppled without superb and sustained leadership skill.

DA governance of Cape Town formed the base for the DA victory in the Western Cape, which was aided by vicious ANC in-fighting.

There was nothing inevitable about this; it was hard work, and personalities played a large role.

South Africa’s transition to a negotiated non-racial settlement is a case study of the importance of good leadership on all sides.

There were lots of occasions when it could have gone seriously awry.

What if Nelson Mandela had emerged from jail with bitter anger, bent on revenge instead of reconciliation?

Or if De Klerk had decided that military force could continue to secure white domination?

The 1994 elections were a cliff-hanger, with the IFP included on the ballot by a sticker put on at the last minute.

Jacob Zuma’s rise to the presidency was not inevitable either. It could have been derailed at many points, but he fought back skilfully.

The future is simply not predictable, which is scary on the one hand, but encouraging on the other.

It means that free choice and the power of possibility can overcome all manner of dire prognostications.

There are tipping points and catalysts that can dramatically change our political landscape.

Truly great leadership recognizes this and seizes the moment for the higher good.